The much awaited draw for the European Champions League has given Manchester United an eminently winnable group which should see them qualify for the knockout stages without harming their Premiership hopes. But it will by no means be an easy task – no European Cup group ever is. Two leg matches against Glasgow Rangers, Spains Valencia and Turkeys Champions League debutants Bursaspor should nevertheless see United getting out of Group C successfully.
Sir Alex Ferguson told manutd.com “You can’t complain about that, it’s a good draw for us. You always look at the travelling side of it and the only one that’s of any great distance is the trip to Turkey. Rangers manager Walter Smith’s has already been on the phone talking about tickets for Old Trafford. Like me, he’s really looking forward to our games against each other.”
The unknown quantity is Bursaspor which is based in Bursa in northwest Turkey. An away leg involving a 2,800 km, 3 and a half hour flight with a 2 hour time difference could have been far worse. Having Turkish Airlines as a major club sponsor and the official team carrier may not be a huge advantage but neither can it do any harm. The ‘Green Crocodiles’ have never played in the competition before but they are the current Turkish champions.
Valencia can not be taken lightly even though they have not been successful in four previous meetings. Manchester United obtained a 3-0 home win and a scoreless draw in 1999-00 then another 0-0 away and 1-1 draws in the 2000-01 campaign.
Rangers of course needs no introduction with manager Walter Smith having a short spell with Ferguson at Old Trafford towards the end of 2003-04. The only two competitive meetings between the two sides took place in the Champions League that same season with United winning 1-0 at Ibrox and 3-0 in Manchester.
A major concern about European cup ties has always the effect that those mid week matches can have on Premier League fixtures prior to and especially following them. As the draw has panned out however, it has not been as unkind for United as it could have been.
The Rangers home tie follows an away visit to Everton and a few days before facing Liverpool at Old Trafford. That’s not as bad as it sounds because Liverpool will also be involved in a Europa Cup tie on the previous Thursday night: Everton Away – Tuesday September 14 – Rangers at Home – Liverpool Home
United then visit both Bolton and Sunderland on either side of the trip to Valencia: Bolton Away – Wednesday September 29 – Valencia Away – Sunderland Away
United then has two successive home matches against West Brom and Bursaspor before visiting Stoke City: WBA Home – Wednesday October 20 – Bursaspor Home – Stoke Away
Those matches are followed by a critical Old Trafford clash with Tottenham, then an away trip to Bursaspor before returning home to face Wolves: Tottenham Home – Tuesday November 2 – Bursaspor Away – Wolves Home
The away visit to Rangers is sandwiched between home matches against Wigan and Blackburn Rovers: Wigan Home – Wednesday November 24 – Rangers Away – Blackburn Home
The final Champions League home tie with Valencia comes after visiting Blackpool and will be followed by the visit of Arsenal – who themselves have a midweek Champions League clash with Serbias Patizan Belgrade in London: Blackpool Away – Tuesday December 7 – Valencia Home – Arsenal Home
With a bit of luck qualification can be guaranteed with games to spare allowing Ferguson a chance to freshen up the side for the final group match against Valencia before the difficult Old Trafford clash with Arsenal.
Should Ferguson be happy with the cards dealt to Manchester United in the Champions League?